By Ed Cropley
GABORONE-BOTSWANA, home to the world’s largest elephant population, will break ranks with its southern African neighbours and not support bids at this week’s UN conference to allow sales of ivory, its president says.
Trade in ivory will take centre stage at the meeting of the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg form September 24 to October 5.
South Africa Environment Minister Edna Molewa said on Tuesday the Southern African Development Community would take a united stand and support Namibian and Zimbabwean proposals to be allowed to sell ivory, a coveted commodity used for carving and jewellery. But Botswana President Ian Khama has told Reuters his nation will not support loosening restrictions on the trade.
“We’re opposed to that … We need to keep elephants on Appendix I so that there’s no trade in ivory,” he said in an interview.
Animals listed on CITES’ Appendix I are afforded the highest level of protection and global trade in products derived from them is prohibited. Botswana will be joining Kenya and other African nations seeking to snuff the trade out completely.
Southern Africa’s elephant populations – with notable exceptions such as Mozambique – have grown or stabilised, in contrast to the rest of the continent, where the animals are being depleted by poachers to feed an illicit market with the bulk of the demand from Asia.
“We shouldn’t think that because we are doing well, we should be selfish,” Khama said.
Opponents are concerned that if CITES allows ivory to be traded, even from stockpiles and as a one-off, it would send a signal that it is socially acceptable, which could spur demand and further poaching.
“We are on this continent and if we support an act or a view that may see us have some temporary benefit but yet it encourages the illegal trade, it means other countries that are struggling with their populations are going to suffer,” Khama said.
“It means other countries that are struggling with their populations are going to suffer, and one day if their animals become extinct, and we still have viable populations, all the guns will now be focused on us,” he said.
There were signs that Botswana would abandon its neighbours at the World Conservation Congress of International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) held in Hawaii from September 1 to 10, where a resolution was passed calling for all governments to ban domestic trade in ivory. Botswana supported the ban, while Namibia, supported by Japan, led the countries calling for a continuation of domestic ivory trade with tight regulation.
Animal rights activists are expected to table a motion during the CITES conference on the uplisting of elephants and lions from Appendix II to Appendix I.
Appendix I category animals are those threatened with extinction.If the motion is accepted, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa with a huge population of elephants and lions would be banned from legally hunting and trading in ivory and other animal products.
Namibia’s Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said the country has submitted a number of proposals to the CITES conference.
“We have the interests of rural communities at heart, with elephants being one of the most important and valuable assets that we have to support community conservation programmes,” Shifeta said.
“There is no justification for a blanket closing of all markets, instead, a differentiation is needed between well-regulated markets such as in Japan and others that can for whatever reason not be regulated sufficiently and it is Namibia’s sovereign right and responsibility to decide over the use of our natural resources”.
He said the outcome of the IUCN 2016 “was very disappointing and points towards a similar potential outcome at CITES CoP17” where there is on the agenda a similar draft resolution on the closing of domestic ivory markets.
“We as a nation have been very consistent over the years on CITES issues, and we are led by our Constitution that requires us to use wildlife resources sustainably to the benefit of all our people. We have a good record of effectively implementing CITES and our wildlife populations are thriving,” Shifeta said.
“Very few countries can match us with these achievements.
We therefore call on other countries to support our proposals and not obstruct us.”
Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa will call on an unlikely ally – the European Union.
The EU Head of Delegation to Zimbabwe Ambassador, Philippe van Damme, says the European bloc supported sustainable trade in ivory that benefitted communities.
“The EU has always said that trophy hunting is part of this use of natural resources on two conditions,” he said.
“One, that trophy hunting is on a sustainable way that has to be sustainable in a scientific way.
Secondly, that trophy hunting should benefit communities and that is why the EU has introduced a proposal to strengthen international regulations around trophy hunting not to prohibit trophy hunting.”
He continued: “The international regulations so far have a couple of loopholes which do not guarantee the sustainability of trophy hunting and then guarantee that the benefits of trophy hunting will be shared in a fair way to communities involved which makes it sustainable in the long run.
“And since there is an international public opinion which is sometimes hostile because precisely they will refer to that the way trophy hunting is managed is not sustainable — the way we proposed this regulation is precisely to preserve trophy hunting as a viable source of revenue in countries like Zimbabwe which of course has potential. Zimbabwe has been discussing this resolution at SADC level.”
Ambassador Van Damme said the EU would push for this resolution to be adopted at CoP17.
Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said: “If we do not convince the rural communities to see value in living with these animals, then there would be no (animal conservation) success story to talk about.” – Reuters